[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that Southampton have overcome the loss of another key player just as strong at the other end after some shrewd recruitment.
The south coast club have been a standout operator in the transfer market over recent years, with their blueprint of cashing in on some of their stars only to buy a more-than-able deputy elsewhere for an agreeable price the envy of their contemporaries.
In the latest case of a top player departing St Mary’s, Toby Alderweireld opted for a switch to Tottenham in the summer after spending last term on loan with Ronald Koeman’s men.
The Belgium international was a stalwart of an impressive Saints backline last season and continues to exert his presence in a miserly Spurs back four this term.
Replacing the former Atlético Madrid centre-half was never going to be an easy task, but Southampton are certainly not missing Alderweireld in 2015-16.
The introduction of Virgil van Dijk will have represented a gamble in the eyes of those not up-to-speed with Scottish football, but the Dutch centre-half has fitted into Koeman’s team with no issues whatsoever.
The Netherlands international won back-to-back Scottish Premierships at Celtic Park and quickly became a fans’ favourite for his physical approach, comfort on the ball and contribution of goals from the back.
Indeed, since stepping out in the Premier League, Van Dijk has looked like a no-nonsense operator and impressed wholeheartedly at St Mary’s.
Alongside Saints stalwart José Fonte, Southampton’s defence looks just as assured as it did last season, with this dominant pairing set to be the core of Koeman’s impressive side.
Van Dijk has wasted little time getting his name on the scoresheet either, with two goals in his first seven league games helping Southampton get results.
From a defensive perspective, a number of man-of-the-match showings suggest that the south coast club have a new enforcer with which to build a team around over time.
The St Mary’s outfit explored a familiar path in landing Van Dijk, after also snapping up Victor Wanyama from Celtic, who has gone on to become a star in the English game.
There is no doubting that there is a significant quality gap between the top flights in Scotland and England, but this duo’s example shows that some of the better players north of the border are able to make the transition.
Celtic played a distinct role in Van Dijk’s development and were duly rewarded for their excellent scouting and tutelage by selling the Breda-born man for a profit of more than £10 million.
For Koeman, it would have been easy to opt for Steven Caulker as a new centre-half partner for Fonte, with the impressive QPR loanee having plenty of experience in the Premier League and all the attributes to excel.
However, along with Japan international Maya Yoshida, the Saints have four strong centre-halves for the Dutch coach to select from.
For Southampton, it may well be that down the track the same issue arises regarding Van Dijk, with English football’s top six coming knocking for the standout defender in 12 or 18 months time.
For the south coast club to evolve and take their success over recent campaigns to the next level, the defiance to hold on to some of their better players, like Van Dijk, and qualification for European football is necessary.
For this impressive centre-half, a role as part of the next generation of Dutch players to revitalise the floundering Oranje national set-up after missing out on Euro 2016 awaits.
At club level, consistency in the Premier League will be required from the 24-year-old for Southampton to progress, but the early signs are that Van Dijk can be a astute performer at this level.
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